Israel: Jerusalem

I spent Easter Sunday in Jerusalem, and it was my favorite day of the entire trip to Israel and Jordan. So many holy places to see: the Garden of Gethsemane, Mary’s birthplace and her tomb, the Upper Room, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, the Stations of the Cross, and the tomb of King David. Many of these places were within the walls of what is called the Old City of Jerusalem.

Before visiting all these Christian holy sites, though, the first stop of Easter Sunday was at Yad Vashem, the Israeli holocaust museum. Outside, there’s a section dedicated to those who aided persecuted Jews during World War II. Remember the movie Schindler’s List? I wasn’t surprised to see this plaque for Oscar Schindler and his wife.

This statue depicts a man named Janusz Korczak, a Gentile, surrounded by the Jewish children of his orphanage that he refused to leave. All were sent to the death camp at Treblinka in 1942.

There was a group of Israeli soldiers at the museum, no doubt learning more about the history of the Jewish Holocaust. Notice the female soldiers. All Israeli citizens, regardless of gender, are required to join the military at age eighteen. Men serve for a little under three years while women serve for approximately two years.

After Yad Vashem, the rest of the day was devoted to visiting holy sites. The Garden of Gethsemane seemed a peaceful place on this Easter Sunday, quite unlike the time Jesus spent there awaiting his arrest and crucifixion.

The Church of the Agony, built at the foothills of the Mount of Olives, contains a large flat stone thought to have been the place Jesus spent praying the evening before his crucifixion. Above the stone is a painting depicting this scene.

Although the New Testament says nothing about Mary’s birthplace and her childhood home, records from around AD 150 place the house of Mary’s parents in Jerusalem. The Church of St. Anne has a flight of stairs leading to a cave that is thought to be the site of the Virgin Mary’s birthplace.

The location of Mary’s tomb is also controversial. Some believe she is buried in Ephesus, but others think this tomb in the Church of the Sepulchre of Saint Mary in Jerusalem is her final resting place.

The Upper Room, the site of the Last Supper, seemed to me surprisingly light and airy.

The lively Muslim quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem was a shopper’s mecca.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located on the site where many believe Jesus was crucified and buried. The area below this elaborate depiction of the crucifixion is where the cross stood.

This slab of stone, called the Stone of Anointing, is thought to be where Jesus’ body was laid as it was prepared for burial. Many people pray here and lay hands on the stone, asking for blessings.

Not far away from what is believed to be the site of the crucifixion in this church is the location of Jesus’ tomb. There was such a long line to enter that I passed on the opportunity. Also, I liked the idea of the Garden Tomb, which I’d visited a day prior, as being where Jesus was interred.

But the exact location of where the cross stood and where our Lord was buried doesn’t really matter. On this Easter Sunday, I was sure he had arisen.

The Wailing Wall, believed by Jews to be the Western Wall of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, is a sacred Jewish site. The Second Temple was destroyed (as Jesus foretold) by the Romans in AD 70.

Men and women have segregated sections of the wall for prayer. Male visitors must wear either a Hasidic Jewish hat or the yarmulke. Those without (such as my husband) are given a yarmulke to wear before being allowed to enter the male-only side of the wall. Many visitors to the wall tuck prayer requests written on scraps of paper into the cracks.

We tourists were told to dress respectfully on the days we visited holy sites. Knees and shoulders needed to be covered. I often took a long scarf to cover my t-shirt and wore my below-the-knee jean skirt.

According to our guide, some sites in Jerusalem claiming the presence of Christ may be based more on folklore than the Bible. For example, below I have my hand in an indentation supposedly left by Jesus as he leaned against the wall for support on his walk to be crucified. Am I covering the handprint of Jesus? Probably not. Notice I’m standing upright, as Jesus, beaten and under the weight of the cross, would have been bowed.

The fourteen Stations of the Cross, also known as the Via Dolorosa, are marked in the Old City of Jerusalem. These stations supposedly highlight the path Jesus walked as he carried his cross to the location where he was to be crucified. Since the time of the Crusades, pilgrims have followed this route of Jesus’ agonizing journey to his crucifixion.

Station VI below is where, according to legend, a woman named Veronica reached for Jesus and wiped the sweat from his forehead with her veil. Later, she was surprised to find the imprint of his face on her veil.

A final holy site of the day hearkened to the Old Testament: the tomb of King David. This is another site especially revered by those of the Jewish faith.

I feel blessed to have seen the many holy sites within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Still, one image that will stay with me is that of the prevalence of armed Israeli soldiers.

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2 Responses to Israel: Jerusalem

  1. How wonderful to be able to visit all the holy sites in Jerusalem! It was really interesting reading all about your trip. Thank you for sharing.

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